9 Steps to Painting Like a Pro

Man painting wall
What You'll Need
Denatured alcohol
Paint finish
Painter's tape
Paint Thinner

You've decided on the perfect color, so the hardest part of painting is already behind you. Now you want to get to the actual job done, and you want it to look like it was done by a pro. Don't worry! Follow these guidelines and you can achieve a paint job that will make any professional take notice.

Step 1 - Choose the Right Type of Paint

Latex and water-based paints are the most popular choices because they emit less fumes, dry quickly, and have an easier cleanup process. Latex paint is also less prone to fading or yellowing over time and provides a breathable surface that allows moisture to escape. This is beneficial as painted surfaces that suffer from moisture build up are at greater risk for blistering and bubbling damage, not to mention mold and mildew growths on the walls.

Alkyd, or oil-based, paints have the advantage of being more durable. Alkyd paints can also be applied in lower temperatures than latex’s 50 degree cut off point. You should always choose alkyd paints when repainting exterior surfaces with heavy chalking (that powdery substance that comes off on your hand) or when repainting interior or exterior surfaces that already have more than three layers of paint. Alkyd paints can be trickier to apply than latex paints, because they are go on thicker and require the use turpentine, paint thinner, or some other solvent during clean up.

If you are unsure of the nature of your old paint, a bit of denatured alcohol applied to a rag and rubbed onto the surface is a good test. Latex paint will come off on the rag, but oil/alkyd will not. It is important to know what type of paint is already on the surface, as you need an oil primer to cover existing oil paint if you want to use latex as your top coat.

On exterior surfaces, oil should not be painted over latex, however, many experts suggest that the best exterior starts with an alkyd primer followed by latex paint. When you’re painting a kitchen or bathroom, choose paint specially designed for these areas. These paints are more mold, mildew, and humidity-resistant. Although it may seem like an added expense, the cost is worth it. It is generally a good idea to ask your local paint store what they recommend.

Step 2 - Choose the Right Finish

Paint finish, also known as paint sheen, determines the level of shine and durability a painted surface will have. They come in a large variety, including flat, eggshell/satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss. The right finish is important, especially since most paints come in all four varieties.

Flat paint finishes attract mildew more readily than semi-gloss or high gloss finishes; this is because glossier paints have fewer pores for the mold to grab onto. However, flat paints are better at concealing imperfections in the surface. They make surfaces appear smoother and more uniform.

In addition to being resistant to mold and mildew, semi-gloss and high gloss paint are also more durable and wipe clean easily. They stand up to stains and scuffing, which makes them perfect for high traffic areas like hallways, entryways, or a children’s playroom.

Paints with an eggshell or satin finish fall in between the flat and glossy finish options. They are ideal for bedrooms and living rooms. They give a room more depth and warmth and are slightly more durable than flat paints. In fact, they are so durable that a number of manufacturers have formulated flat or matte finish paints that are guaranteed to stand up to acts like scrubbing should you ever need to clean a scuff off a wall in your home without taking the finish off as well . If that seems like an appealing feature for you just ask your local paint dealer for that kind of finish, but do expect to pay a little more. Homes with small children are excellent candidates for this type of paint.

Step 3 - The Secret to Prepping Your Paint

One gallon of paint will cover about 400 square feet of surface. If the area you’re painting requires more than one gallon, or will require you to use multiple cans, mix all the paints together before you begin. This is called boxing.

Different cans can have subtle color variations that might not be evident in the can, but will become obvious on your walls. If you plan to do two coats, you can mix only half the paints at first. Then, mix any remaining paint before starting your second coat. Boxing your paint is one small step that will put your paint job over the top and make it look professional.

If you’ve painted in the past and noticed imperfections or color differences with the finished product, chances are you were applying the paint just fine. However, without boxing the paint, left yourself vulnerable to this subtle vulnerability that undermines how your final paint job turns out.

Step 4 - Choose the Right Tools

While power rollers and paint sprayers can be time-savers, they are not practical for smaller or complicated rooms. Painting these rooms is better done in the traditional manner. For most jobs, all you need is a roller, a tray, and a few brushes that vary between 1-inch to 4-inches wide for the trim and detail work. Make sure you also have the equipment needed to prepare and protect surfaces around the area you plan to paint.

Step 5 - Prepare the Surface

Failing to prepare your surface before painting will diminish the durability of your paint. Even worse, all the blemishes, marks, and imperfections you are trying to cover will remain visible.

This is likely another step many people either skip or cut corners with, and it’s what separates the paint pros from the amateurs.


The first thing you need to is remove everything from the walls. Take down the curtains and remove the switch plates and any pictures or other objects hanging on the walls. Then, cover all surrounding floors, cabinets, and fixtures with drop cloths, flattened out corrugated boxes, or heavy, brown paper.


Next, if you are painting a kitchen or walls that have a greasy or dirty buildup or residue, you want to clean the walls and trim thoroughly. Use hot water and a little bit of detergent soap, then rinse thoroughly. Otherwise, it is not necessary or recommended to wash the walls.


Once the walls have dried, patch any holes, cracks, or joints with spackle compound. Let it dry and the sand with fine grade sandpaper until smooth. Also, sand down any glossy surfaces. Wipe all sanded surfaces with a damp cloth to remove all residues. Wipe down the trim to assure a clean, dust free surface for your paint.

Step 6 - Protect the Surfaces

If you have a steady hand, you might not need masking tape to cover the edges. If you don't, invest in the special blue painter’s tape rather than using regular masking tape—especially on painted surfaces. Regular masking tape might damage the very surface you are trying to protect.

Wrap hardware such as doorknobs, hinges, and pulls in foil to protect them before painting. Finally, keep a damp cloth around and paper towels handy when painting. Most spilled paint can be removed with these if it’s caught soon enough.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this. No one is going to gush over the beauty of the walls you slaved over if your room and floor have ugly paint flecks and drops all around the perimeter.

Step 7 - Prepare For Messes Before They Happen

After opening the paint can, use a nail to tap about five or six holes into the retaining grove, the thin trough that runs along the inside of the can. Punching holes in the grove allows the paint to run back into the can. Make sure you have paint thinner or turpentine handy if you are painting with any oil based paints. Latex paints will clean up with soap and water.

If you need to stop for a short period instead of cleaning your brushes, seal them into a plastic bag or wrap them with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. As such, have these bags or foil handy from the get go before your need for them becomes more urgent

Step 8 - Prime When You Need To

Certain situations like covering new drywall, stains, or strong, dark colors, will be greatly helped with a coat of primer before you paint. Use the right type of primer and have it tinted the same color as your paint. It might seem like an additional step, but primers help reduce the number of coats you have to do. Not every job requires it, but in these special cases it really makes a difference.

Step 9 - Paint Like a Pro

Use a brush to cover any area that is too tight to accommodate a roller. Brush a one-inch border of paint around any windows and doors, where the wall meets the ceiling and floor, and in corners. When using a brush, dip the bristles of the paint about halfway into the paint and then tap the brush against the edge to remove any excess. Hold the handle at the base and press gently so that the bristles flex slightly. Lay the brush on the wall slightly away from the trim. As the paint leaves the brush, it will fill in that space. Let the tips of the bristles lightly touch the trim as you apply slight pressure. Feather your stokes away from trim, floor, or ceilings to prevent any stark drying lines from forming before you roll into that area. Brush in both directions to avoid any streaking. Work in small sections so that the paint will still be wet when you go to use the roller.

Rollers provide even coverage with little color variation and are much quicker than painting with a brush. Make sure your roller has the right nap for the surface you’re painting. Dip the roller into the paint so that it is well covered, but not saturated. Roll the roller over the ridges of the pan to ensure that it will spread the paint smoothly. Prepare to cover about four feet of surface for each "dip" you do with your roller.

For the best results, paint a large M onto the wall, and then roll from side to side to spread the paint, filling in the M. Finish up with light up and down strokes for an even finish. Consider using an extension pole. This will help you achieve a nice even stroke from the floor to most 8 to 10-foot ceilings.